“Voelklip” – the origin of the name of this suburb of Greater Hermanus seems to be obvious. There’s this great big rock about 150 metres off one of the most popular beaches along the coast. In the past this rock was covered with thousands of sea birds (mainly cormorants), busy with their own affairs and leaving layers of white droppings. As recently as the 1930s, the builder of many homes in the suburb, Hans Moore (later to be a mayor of Hermanus), observed that “large amounts of guano could be gathered for flower and vegetable gardens”. What more obvious than to name the adjacent land after this iconic rock?

Not at all obvious! For nearly three hundred years, from 1724 to date, the area on which Voelklip now stands has been officially named “Mosselrivier”. It was called after a small river on the far western side of the area, which flowed into a bay abounding with mussels – in the sea, not in the river. The farm is first identified by name in 1724 when grazing rights on it were granted by the authorities in Cape Town to Jan Cloete of the farm “Nooitgedacht” in the Stellenbosch area. These ‘rights’ were not ownership in a modern sense. Rather, farmers could secure use of the land on a system of long leasehold, with ownership of the land vesting always in the government. However, the leasehold itself could be bought and sold, with the price relating to the quality of the grazing and the length of leasehold still remaining.

The leasehold records of Mosselrivier Farm are quite complete. After having passed through seven hands, the farm was acquitted by Duncan McFarlane (1857). By McFarlane’s time the leasehold system had given way to freehold and so he was able to leave this farm (and several other farms) to his daughter, Agnes (later Stroud), who then bequeathed it to her daughter, Henrietta (later Poole).

In 1897 Agnes Stroud had a portion of Mosselrivier Farm surveyed separately for residential development and sold the land to the Mossel River Estate Company Ltd. This company was responsible for developing the Village of Mossel River. The word “Voelklip” does not appear anywhere history.

The company prepared a grid pattern of roads and avenues and, unlike Hermanuspietersfontein and Poole’s Bay the streets and avenues were numbered, not named. The township comprised First to Seventeenth Streets and First to Eleventh Avenues. Individual plots were sold and the new owners engaged contractors to build to their specifications. In the early years, there were few regulations governing the construction of the houses, and most were best described as sea side cottages.

The plan headed “Mossel River Sea Side Township” from 1918 shows the grid pattern and that only plots near the sea had been sold. Also, it shows a planned railway through the township, presumably going on to Stanford and beyond. It is obvious that Sir William Hoy’s intervention to stop the railway coming to Hermanus made sure that the Mossel River railway was never built.

The most successful contractors were Hans Jacob Joseph Moore (known as Jose), his brother Millie and his son Hans. This family came from Stanford in 1920 and probably built half the houses constructed in the area between 1920 and 1939. During this time the informal name of Voelklip began to be used. The preference for Voelklip over Mossel River possibly reflected the nature of the population moving into the township. They were mainly families building holiday homes, with little or no settled connection with historic Hermanus and its names. They were oriented to the beaches and the sea and took more easily to a name that reflected a seaside suburb. Also, the Mossel River was not an obvious landmark, being at the far western edge of the development. The Voelklip was, however, clearly visible from the cliffs and especially from the two main beaches – Kammabaai and Voelklip Beach itself.

Let us look back a little at this point and record some of the important historic events before the 1930s. In 1794, Hendrik Cloete built the first permanent structure in the whole Greater Hermanus area, at the mouth of the Klein River in the far eastern corner of Mosselrivier farm. His dwelling was named De Mond Huis (River Mouth House) and his family visited for three months each year on holiday. In 1798 Lady Ann Barnard and her entourage stayed at De Mond on the way to see the stalagmites and stalactites at De Kelders. She was not impressed by the house or by the Cloetes’ lifestyle. After many ups-and-downs the house was beautifully renovated in the 1980s by the Hamilton-Russell which still owns the property.

However, very few families invested in the area and holiday makers continued to erect temporary structures for the holidays or lived in or under their waggons. Some houses were built and remain in existence, even with major changes.

The thatch roof house standing right on the Voelklip Circle was built by the Bishop family. The photograph shows the house in about 1910. It was adjacent to the service station the Bishops were given a licence to open between Ninth and Eighth Avenues. The gravel road from Hermanus can be seen in the lower left hand corner, at the low-level bridge across the Mossel River. The road approaches the house, but then swings away to the right, becoming Tenth Avenue, the road to Stanford.

The Bishops moved on and the house was rented by the Daneel family for some years. After some other owners, the house was vacant for many years and became quite dilapidated. Recently it was rehabilitated and now houses the restaurant Lizette’s Kitchen.

Another house of interest is the cottage built by Miss Ella Gordon in Second Street, up above First Avenue. Ella Gordon was a Hermanus “character” in the first half of the 20th century, dressing, working and living as a man. She owned a farm in Karwyderskraal, but spent many summers in this cottage in Hermanus, which she built with her own hands. She was usually accompanied by her friend, Clara Markgraaf. The outline of the original cottage can now hardly be seen due to successive renovations.

A third house of historical interest is ‘Wilhelmstadt’ which stands at 110 Eleventh Avenue. It was built at the turn of the 20th century by Charlie Theron, and the photograph shows the house still completely isolated in 1906. Theron did not retain the house for long, selling it in 1910 to Koos le Roux, who was a supporter of Germany during World War I. Koos’s brother who had a house adjacent, supported the British and Allies and raised a large Union Jack flag in front of his property. Koos was enraged, tore down the flag and named his own house ‘Wilhelmstadt’ in honour of the Kaiser himself. The name has stuck, even after the house was sold in 1917 to the du Toit family from the Caledon district. They used the house as a holiday home until 1980.

As Voelklip began to attract more holiday makers who did not own or could not afford to rent holiday houses, boarding houses and hotels appeared. The Riviera Hotel was built in 1904 and was initially owned by Henrietta (neé Stroud) and Jack Poole. Clearly the name ‘Riviera’ was chosen to appeal to European visitors who were just starting to come to Hermanus in numbers, drawn by publicity about its healthy air.

In 1916 the Riviera Hotel was acquired by P John Luyt, who already owned the Marine Hotel in Poole’s Bay and the two hotels were run in tandem. PJ’s brother Henry managed the Riviera until 1934, after which it was managed by PJ’s son (also Henry) until his early death in 1938. After PJ’s own death in 1940, his wife, Joey van Rhyn Luyt, sold the Riviera. It went through several hands until in 1944 a disastrous fire destroyed the entire building. It was rebuilt and operated as a hotel until it was finally demolished and a block of time-share apartments built. This in turn was also demolished and today the townhouse development Sandals stands on the site.

Only a very limited amount of municipal and commercial development took place in the early years. At the municipal level the Mossel River Village Management Board was established in 1895 and was so vigorously independent that municipal officials in Hermanus referred to the area as the ‘Republic of Voelklip”. Initially, the only passable road through Voelklip was Tenth Avenue, which was part of the road from Hermanus to Stanford. The other streets and avenues were marked on the plan, but were not cleared of fynbos and trees.

Initially, all consumer goods were brought by waggon and cart from Hermanus. The first local shop opened in 1929, 25 years after the Riviera was built. This was owned by Johannes Ham and known understandably as “Ham se Winkel”. It was on the corner of Tenth Avenue and Third Street. A post office was built next door. In the same year a school opened in Ninth Avenue, near De Mond House.

In Part Two we will follow the steps Voelklip took to assure its water supply and how it first merged with Poole’s Bay to form Eastcliff Village Management Board and finally merged with Hermanus to form the Hermanus Municipality that existed up till the creation of the Overstrand Municipality.